The most democratical asset

There’s something we all have. Each and every one of us, no matter where we live, our social status, skin color, or our finances. And that something is time. All of us, no matter how different our lives might be, share the same 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or, how a good friend once told me, Beyonce’s day has also 24 hours, it’s all in how you use those hours.

And that was the point where I’ve clicked. I’ve never been an organized person, to begin with. My discipline was limited at Don’t miss the deadline. but I’ve never understood the people who got their whole days and weeks scheduled and planned. I mean… Why?

But one day came, and I discovered that behind all this is a simple answer, coming from another woman that’s dear to me: we need to be this organized because our minds are chaotic enough. And there it was, my simple, yet never really thought about it that way answer.

 Turning into an organized person is a whole journey. For me, at least. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to try and do this if I’d feel mentally unstable. Because it might be true that all of us have 24 hours every day, but what are we able to do with those hours is conditioned by a lot of factors.

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness or having mental health issues are two of the factors with the biggest impact on our time management. That’s why trying to become a better manager of your time in difficult times for your mental health will always fail.

And it’s not necessarily something about you. It’s about learning to cope with a condition that will impact everything: your priorities, your way, your pace of doing things, the way you manage your time, resources, and relationships. That’s why our journeys are so, so different, despite having the same amount of time.

It can be just as tough even if you’re not being affected by any medical condition, but you’re suffering because of instability. It might be caused by your job, or maybe your finances, your personal life, or even all at once. The main thing to be understood is that one can’t become an organized person in times dominated by uncertainty. And this has another reason that sounds so stupid that it’s actually true. Becoming an organized individual is a huge energy consumer. Huge. Especially if you’ve been used to roam around chaotically and get everything done, eventually.

This is something hitting me like…every two days. I look to my Excel sheet, I re-read the things I’ve said I’m going to do that day, and I’m just sitting there, like… No, I can’t do this. What on earth was on my mind when I got myself in it?

But then I just go, take a deep breath and do the things. Because I know how it used to be when I’ve lived in a chaotic loop. And maybe I can do better.

Because time is like money, it has to be budgeted. The big difference between the two is that not everyone has the same amount of money, but everyone has the same amount of time. Budgeting that universal amount of time, though, that’s a really personal job.

It’s personal because it takes a lot of discipline and will often force you to do uncomfortable things. Like going to bed earlier than you like to. But learning how to budget your time will also bring you good things. Like getting things done, the satisfaction that comes from getting those things done, and actual progress. Or like avoiding the burn-out. Because it won’t take you more than a week or two to test and see how many things you can put on your plate and keep them together. And knowing how much is too much for you is one of the most important things you need to know.

I know it’s this trend, to talk about self-care all over the Internet. And it is a really, really important thing, to take good care of yourself. But this is rarely all about taking long baths or buying pretty things. It is more about doing those uncomfortable things we keep postponing, even if we know those are the right things to do. Maybe being more careful with our money, or maybe our time. Organizing our wardrobe, or maybe eating cleaner. Going to sleep earlier, or maybe give up on that toxic job/environment we’re spending so much time on. But all these start with a small step, which often is called being honest with yourself. With the understanding of the fact that what we’ll do today will impact the person, we’ll be tomorrow. That you deserve a life with continuously high quality. And this is why, even though it is such a personal path to walk, you’ll never be able to walk it all alone. Getting yourself an accountability partner is the best thing you can do. Just make sure you trust that person and that their intentions on you aren’t evil. Because dealing with all the discomfort this kind of journey will bring isn’t easy. Not when you come from a place where you had to dive into the chaos to resist. But it is worth it, and getting to be in control when it comes to your time is a powerful move. It is self-love and self-care. And it totally is something you deserve to know how it feels like.

Work hard, dream harder

I was reading an article in a magazine about the emotional work, and it remained with me. Even if the main ideas were about how women tend to do more emotional work, and for free, the simple thing of seeing the emotional help we tend to offer as work brought me an idea worth reflecting upon.

I have always been a giver. I tend to run away from my problems by helping others solve theirs. And I’ve never thought about what I was doing as if it was some kind of work.

Of course, I’ve always known that it is a kind of investment, that I give a part of my resources- time, energy, knowledge, kindness, patience- for another person’s well-being. But it felt more like an act of generosity, of friendship, rather than a service that I was making to those people.

I thought, for a very long time, that the only thing that I get in return should be the fact that I have a meaning that doesn’t allow me to fall apart in irreversible ways. That this should be enough to make me feel like I do the right thing.

And even if giving, if helping others is more of an inner calling than something I am doing for an outcome, trying to see this as work has forced me to shift the perspective for a bit.

It made me aware of the fact that not only I can, but I have to choose the people I would share some of my resources with. But it took me an eight-years-long friendship ending in not-that-friendly-terms, to learn how to distinguish between people who need attention and those who are looking for help.

Thinking about what I do provide for others made me aware of the fact that I don’t provide the same things, in the same ways, for myself. That during my quest of saving the world kindly, one person at a time, I was neglecting the only person I could save: myself.

But, first, I had to become empty. Before I’ve got to understand the importance of being selective and aware of what I bring to the table, I had to get to the point where I was talking myself out of panic attacks in the mirror, crying, somewhere at 2 a.m. or maybe in the afternoon.

And only when I’ve seen myself reaching a new level of low, I’ve understood that you can’t help others without taking care of yourself. If I want to be able to keep giving, I also have to allow people in, to let them see me struggling and fighting my demons. That I can be a friend just as much as I let others be my friends, as well.

And this was hard to admit. It was hard, as I’ve always valued the feeling of power that is usually brought by being independent and having your life together. I’ve always hated to appear in front of others as vulnerable, even if I am. I’ve never wanted my loved ones to see me crying, even if, so many times, I have had no control of it, and it just happened.

Somehow, being the strong one has always felt like it is the only option for me. Even if, in an almost ironical way, I’ve always encouraged people to be their own, real, authentic self. With good, bad, strong and vulnerable points.

Seeing written on paper about how emotional work is work, real work, made me ask myself questions. And the most painful one was Were all those people worth it, would they ever do the same for you?

It left me a bit bitter, to know that I need to choose with more care the people I get close to, that need my help. That I can’t fight any battle I feel to. That I have to think twice before deciding to put in the work and resources for somebody.

Because emotional work, like any other type of work, is tricky, as it can be meaningless, as it fills you up with frustration and exhaustion when it turns out wrong, or, contrary, to bring you purpose and enlightenment.

This happens because emotional work, more than any other kind of work, involves care. Authentic, genuine care and openness established between two people. An exchange of vulnerabilities, experiences and, why not, information. This is why it is almost always seen as a feminine kind of thing, even though, the truth be told, I’ve also met a lot of wonderful men doing it, and I am grateful for all the things I’ve learned from them and stayed with me.

Because emotional work is not about a schedule. It is about seeing the good in the other person, and help it see that good, too. And this is one of the most beautiful parts of being human, a type of work as stunning and glowy as a dream, but as challenging as the real existence at the same time.

Changing roles: when the care-giver needs to be cared for

Caring about people is, by far, the strongest thing that comes to my mind when I think about what makes people human. If I’d be asked what makes us human, in the way that most people understand this term, I’d definitely say that it is the ability of caring for others, for their well-being.

Somehow, things are not that simple, as there are at least two types of people in the world: the caregivers and the caretakers. Of course, things have more shades than these two, but for now they’re the only shades we need.

As a caregiver, I can tell that I’m also an empath, and that I love to share. I love helping people, sharing information, resources, time, everything that I feel that could be helpful for them. But there are also our buddies, the caretakers. They’re usually two types, as well: those who are vulnerable and need to be taken care of, while they get through the difficult times they have to face. And there are the pretenders, the ones who don’t really need your help or resources, but they want your constant attention.

And there comes the big challenge, not solely in identifying correctly who is the person worth investing into, but also taking care of yourself in the process as well. As a caregiver, I can state for sure two things: caregivers need to receive some care as well, and that having boundaries won’t make you less human.

Of course, being a selfless person might seem like a wonderful thing, but be careful, as emotional burnout is more than just a tale. The magic word that helps you prevent that from happening is boundaries. You have to get some, if you don’t want to lose yourself in the process.

Because helping others is a thing that, as pretty as it seems, takes a lot from you, because, it needs to create a bond strong enough to let you actually help them. Every person one helps is taking a piece from their soul. This is why we should learn to choose our people wisely.

In my journey of emotional recovery, I’ve discovered a lot about a multitude of things, but especially about my patterns as a caregiver. I’ve discovered that I tend to let myself get drained by letting anyone to take from me whatever they  need, how much they  need. I’ve also noticed that I don’t tend to ask for support as often as I’m offering mine. And, even if everything I’ve stated here sounds just pretty and cute, the truth is that it is the way I’ve been toxic for myself. By constantly denying myself the support I was needing.

And this is how things went till…well, till I got my cup empty, to say so. And you cannot pour from an empty cup, right? That was the moment when it became clear that I have to change my way of doing things, so I’ve chosen the easiest path: I’ve isolated myself for a while.

I’ve obviously felt really bad about it, and the guilt tripping was nothing I’d like to remember. But, as the tale goes, I had no other choice left. I was already at a point where I reached numbness, and I was feeling like I have nothing left to give to other people, no matter how close we were at the time. So I’ve started to reevaluate my relationships with the people around me. I was surprised to finally observe how many people were coming my way only when they needed something, and how many people were only looking for attention and some spotlights, not real help. It amazed me, but it has also convinced me that I’ve made the right choice.

Because, even if there are caregivers and caretakers into this world, the reality is that there’s nothing fixed. You can always switch places, as life is not linear. Becoming a caretaker, as a native caregiver, feels initially wrong on so many levels  that you can’t even count them. But there are times in one’s life when becoming a caretaker is a necessary measure. And you have to accept and respect them, with everything they’re bringing to the table.

So did I. I took a deep breath, and reached for support. This is how I’ve found out that there are people out there which are doing this the ping-pong way: I’ll help you now, you’ll help me later. That there are people that I can learn from now, and I will repay them when they will need, the way they need to be supported.

That no is not a bad word, but it is, for sure, a word making a huge difference in one’s life. Like the difference between an empty cup, and a cup filled up and ready to pour some into other’s cups, as well. Like the difference between a good day, spent at peace with myself, and a day filled up with others’ drama.

And the thing that I believe is the hardest to learn when you’re a caregiver: that a refusal won’t transform you into a monster. No, you’re not becoming Hitler if you choose to take control over the people with whom you’ll share your resources with. Actually, this will only benefit the people which really need what you have to offer, as well as your mental health.

And, no. Asking for help won’t make you a weak person, as most of the people that try to take advantage of you will try to say. It just proves that you’re mature enough to understand that no one can do all by themselves. There are times when you’ll need help, and asking for it is the best proof that you understand that being human comes with limitations as well.

It doesn’t mean that you try to avoid anything if you’ll refuse to help  whenever you’ll be asked to. It only means that you’re aware of the fact that no one can save every person they  met along the road, so you only pick the battles which you feel like are yours.

Of course, receiving help is a beautiful thing, and we tend, once we get used to a certain person constantly helping us, to put more and more pressure on them.  We’re only humans, after all, even if this means that our helper will, eventually, step back and take care of himself as well. Being mature and being grateful for the help we’ve received means also the understanding of this fact, that our caregiver is only a human, not a hybrid of Mother Theresa and Superman.

At the end of the day, being a caregiver means that you will take some time on your own, at least from time to time. Because caring begins with the person looking at us from the other side of the mirror, everyday. Only like that we will be able to offer real, authentic, valuable help to the people we care about. By taking time of our own, to explore freely the inner and outer world, to discover new things, to learn. Even if that could mean, at a certain point, some broken ties. Even if it will feel uncomfortable and it will hurt, that’s also part of life. Ironically, it is the part that marks the beginning of the growth process, so embrace it and stay curious. There are so many things to come, things that you would’ve never even tried to think about, just stay brave, patient, awake and curious. No bad period will last forever, only the lessons brought by it.